Long the target of pranksters armed with bubble bath and other concoctions, the fountain in front of the Harford County Courthouse was the scene of a newer brand of foolishness a few weeks ago that culminated with a viral video production.
Situated at the foot of the steps leading to the courthouse and part of the vista offered to anyone looking out of the county's chief prosecutor's office on the first floor of the courthouse, the fountain – actually an ornate watering trough from the horse and buggy days – is something of a minor landmark in the county seat.
In addition to being so close to the office of the county state's attorney, it is just across the street from the headquarters of the Harford County Sheriff's Office. And though the Bel Air Police Department's headquarters is a few blocks away, Main Street in front of the courthouse is regularly patrolled by town police. In other words, the fountain sits right under the collective noses of the county's law enforcement community.
Despite its well-watched location, or possibly because of it, the fountain has long been the target of people looking for an opportunity to make some fun. A rite of spring each year in town is the filling of the fountain, an action that firmly signals winter is in the past and the weather will be improving. Invariably, within a night or two, the fountain is foaming.
This prank has little luster. Though its many perpetrators may all have thought themselves the original Mr. Bubble, the courthouse crowd would be more surprised if there were no soap put in the fountain from time to time.
The latest bit of tomfoolery to involve the fountain is a product of the Internet age. Video cameras are everywhere and would-be show stealers are eager to take advantage of the potential audience. Clearly more than a little bit of orchestration went into the pre-Halloween motorcycle jump of the fountain by a fellow who describes himself as Bel Air's Evil Knievel (apologies to the family of the late 1970s daredevil whose name is spelled Evel).
This character, donning a cape and piloting a dirt bike, enlisted some friends to set up a portable ramp and to capture the escapade on video.
It's an amusing little show available thanks to the magic of YouTube.
Given the fountain's location, it's equally amazing Kneivel Light got away with the prank.
Still, it's the kind of thing that could just as easily have been one of those horrific bits of self-inflicted carnage that also show up on line, even as they begin as seemingly harmless larks. It's not hard to envision the prankster impaled on the spire of the dry fountain, or worse.
Town police, bemused and apparently feeling a bit challenged by the whole episode, have said they have an idea who the midnight rider is, and they're committed to bringing him to justice.
In this case, justice is likely to come in the form of fines and other financial penalties. It's worth stressing to potential imitators seeking to be Internet famous that the penalty could just as easily have been a lot worse, and a lot more painful, either to the rider or the innocent bystanders in the immediate vicinity.
It's hard to prevent boobery, but there's good reason here to warn against it. Dangerous pranks may offer a potential momentary thrill on the web, but they can also be life-changing in many very bad ways.
By the way, good luck to the police hunting the jumper.